The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Corbett lambasts ‘culture of delay’; calls for fix of City Hall; labor, vets turn out; Councilman Shey there, too; calls Corbett ‘status quo’

In City Hall, Floods, Ron Corbett on March 19, 2009 at 10:02 am

Mayoral candidate Ron Corbett on Thursday morning stood outside the empty, flood-damaged Veterans Memorial Building/City Hall and called on city government to repair the building and return to it.

In so doing, Corbett said the city would honor the veterans for whom the building stands as a memorial and it would put local workers back to work.

Nearly 100 labor union members and veterans stood to listen to Corbett speak, but surprisingly, no one from the local electronic media was on hand to record the event.

Turns out, the Linn County Board of Supervisors had summoned the media to the flood-damaged federal courthouse just down the street, a building that the supervisors have their eyes on for the possible future location of the county’s juvenile court operation.

In any event, Corbett had props, TV cameras or no TV cameras.

He held up one of the familiar “We’re Back” signs that have gone outside many buildings that were damaged by the June 2008 flood and are now open and back to life. Only Corbett’s sign had a circle with a line through it, signifying that the Veterans Memorial Building is not back on its feet. He then ripped the circle off so the sign said, “We’re Back.”

“This is why we need a new game plan for Cedar Rapids, a game plan that shows leadership and says, “We’re back.”

Just 10 days ago, Corbett –- vice president at trucking firm CRST and former president/CEO of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and former speak of the Iowa House of Representatives -– attracted every media outlet when he formally kicked off his campaign for mayor.

He spoke without nearly all of them on Thursday.

In his remarks, Corbett took exception with the City Council’s plans for a six-to-nine month study focused on the prospect of building a new government building to house city government and perhaps “co-locate” other jurisdiction’s offices in the new building or at the same site.

“Does the city really want to build a new Taj Mahal dedicated to government?” Corbett asked. “The least expensive plan is to rebuild and move many of the functions of city government back into the Veterans Memorial Building.”

Of course, what most know as City Hall is the Veterans Memorial Building, which was built in the 1920s to honor veterans even as it became home to City Hall.

Corbett said placing City Hall on an island in the middle of the Cedar River made perfect sense in the 1920s and keeping it there makes sense today.

“Many years ago this site was chosen for city government because it was a neutral site between the communities of Cedar Rapids and Kingston,” he said. “That decision brought people together and still does today. This memorial and home to city government has served us well. It is time to reach back to that same unifying spirit.”

Corbett said the current City Hall administration has been given the approval to spend $24 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief money to bring the Veterans Memorial Building back to life. Instead, he said, city leaders have set the matter aside to spend many, many more months exploring the idea of building a new facility somewhere else.

At the end of the day, the city must restore the Veterans Memorial Building in any event, he said, and he said the city should do it out of respect for veterans and to get people in down economy back to work.

“The culture of delay is hurting everyone,” Corbett said. “It is time to get on with our lives.

“We have 7,900 people in this county unemployed. We have laborers in the construction trades that stand ready to work. Unfortunately, we have a City Council stuck in a culture of delay. … We are losing an entire construction season. The delays have to stop.”

Ray Dochterman, business manager of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 125, said his appearance at Corbett’s event on Thursday was not yet an official endorsement of Corbett for mayor. But he said he invited 50 members of his union to come out and listen to Corbett, and 50 members showed up.
Dochterman liked that Corbett was talking about turning federal dollars into jobs.

“You know we’re a little short of jobs right now,” he said.

Scott Smith, president of the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Building and Construction Trades Council, was on hand Thursday, too, to hear Corbett.

“He’s got some good ideas, and I think he’s looking to take charge and get work going here that needs to be done,” Smith said. “It’s been nine months since the flood, and there’s not a whole lot of progress.”

George Hammond, a long-time member of the city’s Veterans Memorial Commission, said veterans just want the city to use the federal money to bring the building back to life whether city government returns to it or not.

“All we want is the building back,” Hammond said.

Standing on the edge of the crowd was City Council member Pat Shey.

Later, after the Corbett speech, Shey said he was “disappointed” with Corbett what Corbett had to say. He called it advocacy for the “status quo.”

Shey said the council is still negotiating with FEMA over the amount of damage to the building even as the city begins a public participation process to help figure out what is the best future use for City Hall.

“I cannot recall any discussion about building a Taj Mahal,” Shey said. In fact, he said no one has advocated building a “new” structure for city hall.

  1. Oh yeah, let’s put essential city and county services back in the flood zone. You better hope they store records some place high and dry. Common sense says you don’t repeat the same mistake twice. Common sense also would have been to take the levee back 6 or more block in the residential area, and for downtown business building them a hugh wall, it they refused to move. God help our children when they have to deal with this in the future. If the flood happened once there is a possibility it can happen again.

  2. It’s about time that someone called the counsel and the city manager out on what they are doing to the Veterans! The money is there so give it to the Veterans to repair the building and lets move forward! It’s greed pure an simple. I hope Mr. Corbett continues to hold the City Leaders accountable for their (lack) of action on this historical building. Mr. Prossor needs to resign and take the current counsel with him!

  3. Have you read what is happening in the Upper Midwest in North Dakota, Red River, Grand Forks Area. For those that think this can’t happen again here’s the article from Reuter’s
    UPDATE 1-High risk for flooding in US Red River Valley-NOAA
    Thu Mar 19, 2009 12:20pm EDT
    WASHINGTON, March 19 (Reuters) – Deep snow and heavy rains have elevated the risk for serious flooding in parts of the U.S. Midwest, especially in the Red River Valley region of North Dakota, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Thursday.
    “We are looking at a situation with all the ingredients for near-record flooding in the upper Midwest,” said Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service, in a release.
    Local officials and emergency managers in the area are preparing their communities, Hayes said.
    Floods in the upper Midwest could rival high water levels seen in 2006 and possibly 1997, NOAA said.
    In the Red River Valley, flooding poses an imminent serious threat, and will begin next week, the forecasters said.
    There is a strong likelihood the crest of the flood could be among the top five highest on record in the region, the NOAA said. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by David Gregorio)

  4. Ron Corbett seems to be following the cedar rapids tea party, of course he is still 2 months behind them… real courageous ron…

  5. Bitter Sweet. If you mean storing records high and dry then maybe we should be asking the City why their damaged inventory included computers that were on the upper floors of the Memorial Building. The water didn’t reach that high. I do agree that we could have another flood, however we could also not have another flood to reach the level that this one did. Even if we act today, which it seems the City is not capable of, we would not be protected. Leave the decission upo to the Veterans. Just give them the money that they have been alloted by FEMA. If the City wants to move their offices- let them. They didn’t pay rent to the Vets anyway. I’m sure there are others who would lease the space.

  6. Fact: There were 16 inches of water on the first floor of Vet’s Memorial. Fact: The basement level and first flooor do not have to store anything valuable. Fact: Gus is correct – undamaged computers etc are still on the floors where the majority of City offices were located – I am not sure if these were turned into FEMA, but A City Water Dept. employee mentioned some things to me, which if they are true, would constitute criminal fraud. Ron Corbett is not dumb, he is our future.

  7. Yeah, except City IT is in the basement as are all of the fiber connections. So you still have to have the stuff in the basement. Let’s rebuild in a flood plane.

    I didn’t think Ron was as dumb as the BOS. Nice Job Ron.

  8. Bob,
    Thanks for the comment. Part of the $20-plus million to renovate City Hall would be used to move all the vital systems above the flood level. — Rick Smith

  9. Status quo? Disappointed? No one has mentioned a new structure for city hall? Does he attend the same council meetings that I attend? Seriously? Recall vote anyone? Please. After all of the money I lost in the flood, which pales in comparison to those that lost their homes, this is insulting and disrespectful not only to veterans, but every Cedar Rapidian and Iowan. I have disagreed with council member privately, but I have never publically insulted them. These comments by Mr. Shey are public insult to veterans, myself included. Once again, UNBELIEVABLE.

  10. The basement and mezzanine levels of Vets Memorial Building are completely gutted now and down to bare bones concrete and structure. Upper levels can be restored (long time needed anyway) and the basement / mezzanine area could be left essentially open. The basement (Armory) had been occasionally used for open houses and events – now with it open to the mezz level there could be opportunity for it to remain even more open. If a flood of 2008 magnitude ever did happen again and the basement / mezz were completely engulfed, it’d merely be a task of getting out the water, hosing it down and sanitizing. This building is the symbol of our City government and now is a wonderful opportunity to upgrade the building when FEMA money is available. It is required to be anyway due to National Historic status, so the City might as well use the space it already has available.

  11. I’m not an IT genius, but it would seem the IT stuff still has to come through the basement. Are they going to waterproof it? Then when it does flood, are they going to have someone row out there to manage the thing?

    At a time when it was critical for city employees to communicate there were no phones, no email, and no ability to talk to one another. Regardless of the updates, putting critical infrastructure and the offices of the people responsible for running the infrastructure eliminates their usefulness if they have to be accessed by boat.

  12. Bravo Ron for telling it like it is.This City Manager and Council are dragging there feet trying to figure out more ways to spend more money.I grew up in this city and the City Hall has always been on the Island.There is nothing wrong with the floors where the big shots had their offices and those departments that were on the lower floors could be moved onto upper floors.
    The Council has made comments about possibly building a new building,but why spend that money when they have to repair the Ceterans’ Building anyway.Are they going to build new and then put all of their names on it,in gold,so people will remember them?They don’t need to do that because people are going to remember them for what they have (haven’t) done for our city

  13. Funny – big time political grandstanding by a big political machine and no broadcast media came! Hysterical! We don’t need a political boss in Cedar Rapids.

  14. LouiseZ, you’re right we don’t need a political boss in CR but we also don’t need Rip Van Mayor and the rest of her little band of merry theives helping themselves without any respect for the Veterans, let alone any other TAXPAYING citizens. Recall vote!Mr Shey is a joke, Monica Vernon is no better and the City Manager is worthless. Just ask him for the worksheets for FEMA- NOTHING IS DONE!!!

  15. Gus, I agree with ALL your comments. I hope the entire Council gets voted out and Prosser is removed. We definitely don’t need Corbett though! The last two mayors have been products of the state house as well and look what we got.

  16. It’ll be a little bit difficult to vote out the entire Council, given that the entire Council isn’t up for re-election… Podzimek, Vernon, and Wieneke’s seats won’t be up for election until 2011.

  17. What’s the matter Mr. Shey,did Mr.Corbett hit a nerve?Like always,
    members of the City Council can’t take it when someone comes forward and points out that they are either not doing the job they were elected to do or are slow at doing it.Looks to me like Ron is
    looking at the “big picture” and wants to see this city move forward instead of waiting until who knows when to get anything done.Don’t judge Ron by what past products of the statehouse have done as Mayor.Not all people are the same,some do care about the citizens of Cedar Rapids and the city itself.
    If you look back you might say that Clancey was so-so,Pate was a little better,and Halloran was just there,sleeping at the helm.Ron will bring new life to the council and WILL work to get things done.Ron and I have had our differences but once you get to know him you’ll find out that he has good ideas and will work to get those ideas to working.No matter what other candidates come forward
    Ron Corbett is the man for the job.

  18. Sarah Henderson was right all along about this group of clowns!

  19. Of course the entire council isn’t up for re-election, but those who are should be voted out, along with the others two years later!

  20. Has anyone ever noticed,the closer it gets to election time the more the certain members of the council are saying what they will
    do for the city.Funny,why haven’t they done it before this.They’ll say anything to get your vote.Look at what three of our County
    Supervisors promised then changed after they got voted in.
    The word is that Halloran hasn’t decided if she is going to run again or not.Just a word of advise Mayor,DON’T run.It would take
    you haveing to stay awake and that seems hard for you,Don’t blame it on working long hours or sleep apnea,it’s just that as you get older it’s hard for you to concentrate and keep your mind on what’s
    going on around you.We need younger blood in your present post and I don’t think it should be a certain attorney who I believe has his eyes on that position.We saw enough of him as Mayor pro-tem and I don’t think that he was too impressive.
    We need to get this city back on it’s feet,and the only way to do that is to get a whole new council voted in as their present terms end.Let’s make Cedar Rapids a proud city again and it’s citizens
    proud to live here and proud of who we have representing us.

  21. Amen Jim

  22. It would be incredibly interesting to see what our fair city looked like and how the Council was viewed if the City Staffers were also up for re-election every 3 or 4 years.

    It’s incredibly hard to make good decisions when you’re given bad or even intentionally misleading information.

    Not that I think that all of the current Council members should remain in their seats this November, but the “culture of delay” runs FAR deeper than just the Council, Prosser, or the Department heads.

  23. Delay and drive up the costs. Exactly how much for the flood insurance on the Vet’s Memorial Building? Seems we have two different figures. The publicity could make their $960K a self-fulfilling prophecy. Throw aside personal feelings about the Vet’s Building, and any motive for profit in the private sector, if the costs for the flood insurance increase due to the bad publicity and bad information released to the media affecting the world insurance market place, this is not only lack of leadership, but also lack of management.

  24. First it was “status quo” and more recently (as the election draws closer) it is “don’t forget the building is a memorial to veterans”.

    Yes, it is a memorial. Veterans ensured your right to be elected in free, fair and open elections so that you may sit on the stage and potificate quoting Shakespeare and most recently Mark Twain.

    Better late than never, but disingenious none the less.

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